Mikayla Sager Artist Draft

Praised for her “mature artistry” and “colorful lyric-coloratura voice” by the Vancouver Sun, Canadian soprano Mikayla Sager has established herself as a young singer to follow. Currently residing in New York City, Ms. Sager is devoted to cultivating new audiences through her exploration of chamber opera and progressive interdisciplinary art forms.

Ms. Sager recently made her Carnegie Hall debut in a program featuring her in the roles of Lucia Lucia di Lammermoor, Papagena Die Zauberflöte, and Bess Porgy and Bess. She has also performed at Avery Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic, and at the National Opera Center, the PepsiCo Theatre, and more. Abroad, she has given recitals at the Kay Meek Centre in Vancouver, as well as the Montefeltro Festival in Novafeltria, Italy.

This season, Sager will be seen as Micaëla in Carmen and cover Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Venture Opera. Ms. Sager has also appeared as Norina Don Pasquale, as The Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen with the Manhattan Summer Voice Festival, where she also assumed the role of Renata in the musical Nine, as well as Franzi in Das Land des Lächelns with Manhattan School of Music. She was also recently heard as Second Lady in Die Zauberflöte with Manhattan Opera Studio, where she also covered the roles of Pamina and Der Königin der Nächt. Her recent scene work includes Adina L’elisir d’amore, Blonde Die Entführung aus dem Serail, La Fee Cendrillon, Rosina Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and Zerlina Don Giovanni.

A versatile artist, Ms. Sager is currently on the roster of the New York City-based company Opera Exposures, who presented her New York recital debut in celebration of the 2012 National Opera Week. In addition to her work with Opera Exposures, she has performed with Purchase Dance Theatre in a collaborative production of excerpts from Lucia di Lammermoor in the title role. Also in 2015, Ms. Sager was featured as a Young Artist in Sherill Milnes’s dynamic acting intensive program, Opera as Drama, as well as at the Savannah VOICE Festival in Savannah, Georgia, and as a Young Artist with SongFest in Los Angeles, where she worked with faculty such as Martin Katz, Graham Johnson, and Ann Murray.

In a masterclass setting, Ms. Sager has worked with Enza Ferrari, Judith Forst, Danielle Orlando, Rita Shane and others. As a recipient of the Christina Lawson Scholarship for Music and Drama, the Dogwood District Scholarship for the Arts, and the Stan Jean Foundation Scholarship for the Arts, Ms. Sager recently completed her undergraduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music.

Opera group salutes diva Licia Albanese

Published in Staten Island Live

by Michael J. Fressola

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Opera Exposures, the non-profit organization that promotes new audiences and fledgling singers, will honor the late Licia Albanese at its next performance, a free show Sunday, Oct. 19, at 3 p.m. in the Music Hall of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, Livingston.

The Italian-born soprano, who died in August at 105, played most of  the genres celebrated dramatic soprano roles and  came to be hailed as a diva assoluta (the pinnacle of divadom).

A great favorite of New York audiences, she sang at the Metropolitan Opera 400 times.

She also performed — informally — at Snug Harbor in the 1990s, at the gala opening of “Lo Spirito” an exhibit of contemporary Italian art in the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art.

At one point in during the evening, both the soprano and attendees burst spontaneously into song.

Licia Albanese

Licia Albanese in her “Madama Butterfly” kimono (New York City Opera Festival)

The singer was a fan and supporter of Opera Exposures, according to founder and West Brighton resident Edna Greenwich. “Mme Albanese attended our inaugural presentation in 2004 in the Municipal Building downtown and she was very supportive,” she recalled.

On Oct. 19, two singers, tenor Ta’u Pupu’a and soprano Julia Rowling, will perform arias associated with Albanese and her repertoire.

Local audiences will recall the six-foot-five Pupu’a, a tenor. Among several assignments on Island stages, he starred as Pinkerton in a Staten Island Philharmonic concert version of “Madama Butterfly.”

The Chris Gillespie Quartet, regulars at the Hotel Carlyle, will perform as will pianist Sean Kelly. Opera authority (and legendary bon vivant) Dwight Owsley will narrate the program.

The concert is free, but donations will be accepted. Snug Harbor is located at 1000 Richmond Terr., Livingston.

© 2016 SILive.com. All rights reserved.

Opera Exposures marks decade milestone Sunday at Snug Harbor

Published in Staten Island Live

by Michael J. Fressola


Ta'u Pupu'a, Natalie Bergeron, Carl Rosenthal, Alicia Waller and celebrated soprano Elinor Ross

Ta’u Pupu’a, Natalie Bergeron, Carl Rosenthal, Alicia Waller and celebrated soprano Elinor Ross are part of the Oct. 27 Opera Exposures performance at The Music Hall.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Edna Greenwich is an unshakable radical on the subject of opera. She believes anyone can and will fall in love with it. It’s just a matter of exposure.By way of proving her point, the longtime West Brighton resident founded Opera Exposures (OE) a multi-borough propaganda-and-performance engine 10 years ago and it has grown bigger every season.

She’s hardly surprised. “Everybody loves opera, they just don’t know it yet.” She and OE will present their biggest on-Island program to date, “Ross, Puccini and Ellington,” a free show later this month in the Music Hall., and an official component of National Opera Week.

The billing requires a little explanation: The “Ross” of the title refers to Elinor Ross, the Florida-born dramatic soprano who was renowned for the beauty and intelligence of her performances in the 1960s and 1970s. Greenwich and Ross have been friends for years.

Of course, Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) is in the picture because of his irreplaceable operas — what company anywhere could get by without a “Turandot” or a “Madame Butterfly” an “Il Trittico” or a “La Boheme” but also because Ross sang the big roles in several of them.

She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in the title role in “Turandot.” (A YouTube clip of her performance is a favorite destination these days for opera fans).

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974), seemingly the odd man out insofar as he has no tie to Puccini in particular or to Italian opera in general, belongs on the program simply for his greatness. “Good music is good music,” Greenwich said last week, “whether it’s Duke Ellington or Puccini.”

But Ellington was more complex than jazz, which he liked to call “American music.” As a child, he might easily have slipped into classical mode as a child.

Both parents were pianists and his dad’s favorite keyboard selections were opera arias. Ellington wrote an opera, a jazz-driven piece called “Queenie Pie” that isn’t performed as often as it deserves.

The OE program is part operatic and part jazz and reflects the organization’s interest in young singers the beginning of their careers.

Among them will be soprano Natalie Bergeron, recently accepted into the Evelyn Lear/Thomas Stewart Emerging Wagnerian Artists Program and soprano Alice Waller, recently seen in Handel’s “Messiah” at the Kennedy Center, and tenor Carl Rosenthal, a student of Michael Paul. He has sung roles in “Traviata” “Cramen and “The Magic Flute.”

The program’s other tenor, Ta’u Pupu’a will be familiar to Island audiences. Several years ago he sang the role of Pinkerton in a Staten Island Philharmonic “Madame Butterfly” in the St, George Theater. At the Music Hall, he will sing “Nessun dorma,” the suitor’s show-stopper from “Turandot.”

The 6 foot 5, Tonga-born Pupu’a, an ex-pro football player ( Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens) sustained a serious injury in the mid-1990s and decided to pursue his original dream, professional singing.

Eventually, he won a scholarship to Juilliard. His opera resume has been lengthening rapidly and he recently appeared in Terrence McNally’s “Masterclass” opposite Tyne Daly’s imperious diva at Kennedy Center.

For the Ellington sections of the program, The Chris Gillespie Jazz Quartet, resident in Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel (Tuesdays through Saturdays) will take over.

Dwight Owsley, longtime concierge of the Carlyle and Opera Exposure’s regular MC and narrator, said last week that as unusual as it sounds, the Puccini/Ellington combination is actually perfectly sensible.

“After ‘La Boheme,’ he explained, “Puccini defined how operatic masterpieces of the 20th century would sound…. and only a little later Ellington defined a kind of urbane , suave elegant New York sound, how to use music to cajole and make love, how to slip around….”

The OE program is admission free, with first-come, first-served seating.

© 2016 SILive.com. All rights reserved.


Excerpt from Life Upon the Sacred Stage

The Black Swan: A Tribute Concert

The African American participation in classical music has been prodigious, even before Lincoln and the Civil War. Here is one story.

She was born a slave in 1809 (or 1817 or 1819, sources differ) in Natchez, Mississippi and took the name of her owner, a Quaker, who freed her when taking her north to Philadelphia. Taking the name of her mistress, the former slave taught herself piano, guitar, harp, and singing. Possessed of an incredible and powerful 27-note-range, she was unable to take singing lessons herself, but she eavesdropped others’ lessons. That was how Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield became the first African-American singer to gain recognition in both the United States and Europe, and she was celebrated while slavery was still widespread in the United States. Touring, in fact, was a danger, as she could have been captured as a runaway slave in some states.

After her mistress died, Greenfield began singing at private parties and small public concerts, gaining fame (and the title, “the Black Swan”) for her astounding repertory and “her remarkably sweet tones and wide vocal compass,” according to contemporary James Trotter. Four thousand people came to her New York debut at Metropolitan Hall on March 31, 1853. They were all white; the people of her own race could not be “accommodated.” Greenfield apologized to who had been denied the chance to hear her and subsequently gave a concert they could attend to benefit the Home of Aged Colored Persons and the Colored Orphan Asylum.

On May 10, 1854, she gave a command performance for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace, while enjoying the patronage of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Back in the United States, she opened a music studio in Philadelphia and created and directed an opera troupe in the 1860s. She passed away on March 31, 1876, her obituary published in The New York Times.

Last Sunday, I found myself quite moved by a tribute program to Greenfield at Saint Bartholomew’s Church, in their chapel. To emphasize her abilities, material Greenfield sang (works by Handel, Bellini, Donizetti, and the popular Sir Henry Bishop), a soprano and a tenor performed Greenfield’s repertory! The operatic selections were from the bel canto genre, popular at Greenfield’s time, and also incredibly demanding, with difficult runs and sky high notes requiring expertise at approach and placement, concentration, and agility.

Heather Hill lit through “O luce di quest anima” (Donizetti, Linda di Chamounix) with cool intelligence that turned hot with Bellini’s meltingly beautiful “Ah, non credea” and its brilliant followup, “Ah, non giunge” from Bellini’s La Sonnambula.

Tenor Joshua Stewart sang “Si, ritrovarla io giuro,” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola and the beautiful “Una furtive lagrima” from L’Elisir d’amore by Donizetti with ringing head tones and a relaxed demeanor. Both singers sang gorgeous arrangements of arias from Handel’s Messiah.

I had to remind myself that I was not just attending a lovely Sunday afternoon concert, but that another singer – one singer – had performed these selections, someone who had not been so rigorously trained as Hill or Stewart, someone who had had to struggle for her training and for the mere right to sing, someone who was gibed by critics justifying their racism by attacking her appearance and calling her technique “rough.” And as I listened to the concert, I felt both a sadness that Greenfield was not there to enjoy the tributes, and the talents and training given those who followed her, and then I felt a growing sense of her presence among us.

One additional delight for me was that the concert was structured like a nineteenth century recital, which rarely just did one thing. Lisa Despigno played a portion of a Mozart flute concerto with pianist Jonathan Kelly (I wish I knew which concerto). A typical program would also have included the pianist performing variations of opera themes or popular songs. Kelly composed his own variations on “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in historically accurate style. And, as there might well have been, a speaker provided some narration, in this case, marvelously done by Dwight Owsley, who provided historical commentary in between musical selections. The concert also closed typically. Hill sang “The Last Rose of Summer,” a contemporary hit and paired with “Despigno” for Bishop’s “Lo, Hear the Gentle Lark.” As it would have in the 1800s, the concert closed with Bishop’s “Home, Sweet Home” (words by John Howard Payne).

This extraordinary concert was the work of Opera Exposures (operaExposures.org), headed by Edna Greenwich, and the audience was not only appreciative but moved.

During the program, something Owsley said made me sit up straight and almost raise my hand wildly. He mentioned that after Greenfield returned from Europe, that she toured with one of her pupils, another African-American singer Thomas Bowers.

Because of my novel, Who Have the Power, which in part parodies the old TV western “Bonanza,” I’m pretty solid on the first five seasons of that show! Season Five, the highest rated season of that show by the way, had an episode called Enter Thomas Bowers, Bowers being an African-American opera singer. So someone must have heard of him, but I haven’t been able to find any mention of Bowers on a quick Web search except for that “Bonanza” episode. (He is not mentioned in any of the major histories of the time, although I remember reading news accounts in the San Francisco Chronicle of the 1860s of a “Negress” opera singer named Eliza. I don’t know if the reference was to Greenfield.)

In this 1964 episode, Bowers, beautifully played by William Marshall, is returning from a successful European tour and, once hitting Virginia City, is accused of being a runaway slave. The episode is a bit over the top with lectures on the Dred Scott decision from Adam, and Bowers is put in jail by Sheriff Coffee to protect him from a lynching. The episode even comes with a lunch counter, never before or again seen on “Bonanza,” where Bowers is refused service and Hoss comes to his rescue. The Cartwrights were on Bowers’ side, of course, but there is this alarming exchange that startled me when I first heard it as a child. You can hear it for yourself on Youtube. Ben suggests that they could prove Bowers was not the runaway slave, “Just hear him sing!” Sheriff Coffee wonders what that will prove since all “those people” can sing. Ben agrees with him, and Bowers goes off to jail. Even as a kid I was banging my head against the wall and incredulous; once free and happy and lectured to by Hoss about tolerance for the ignorant, Bowers sings a Mozart aria in German and everybody’s won over.

How did they know about Bowers? Someone must have. And if they did know, why hadn’t they known about Greenfield, too? Or did “Bonanza” delete her as it had routinely deleted women from the story of the West?

In my book, which focuses on the Native American experience, history that hasn’t been told is uncovered gradually, revealed in the air, like the (once) signals of television and felt by more sensitive women. Our stories really are in bits and pieces, scattered about. It takes a long time, but we eventually do come home to ourselves, but it means work. Fear and prejudice dog us throughout history, and none of us is really safe from feeling that fear. We are blessed by those who take the time, talent, and treasure to steer us toward the true.

“The Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield Story.” Presented by Great Music at St. Bartholomew’s Church in cooperation with Opera Exposures (OperaExposures.org). For more information about Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, see contemporary writing of her in the Frederik Douglass Paper athttp://negroartist.com/writings/Elizabeth%20Taylor%20Greenfield.htm, and an account of her Buffalo concerts at http://chnm.gmu.edu/lostmuseum/lm/196/.

Writer/singer Mary Sheeran’s new novel is Quest of the Sleeping Princess(www.questofthesleepingprincess.com), which unfolds during a gala performance of the New York City Ballet, She has also sung through several operas, cabarets, and song recitals in New York, including several performances of Songs From the Balanchine Repertory, which led to this book. Her first novel, Who Have the Power, an exploration of cultural conflict, feminism, and Native American history set on the American frontier, was published in 2006 (www.whohavethepower.com).
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Songs inspired by Love and Wager

Excerpt from the New York Amsterdam News


Last Sunday afternoon, a large audience gathered at Saint John’s Lutheran Church in Greenwich Village to witness a concert under the auspices of Opera Exposures. It featured singers Angela Simpson, Julienne Walker, Adrian Gans, Lynn Randolph, pianist Jonathan Kelly and narrator Dwight Owsley. In celebration of Black History Month, founder of the presenting group, Edna Greenwich, gave a delightful account of the career of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield (1824–76), one of the earliest Black concert singers. She toured the United States and Europe under the patronage of Harriet Beecher Stowe. The musical portion of the program was superb. SopranoAngela Simpson brought down the house with her extraordinary singing of arias from “Tosca” and “Aida.” Mezzo-soprano Julienne Walker lent her rich voice to arias from “Cosi fan tutte” and “Carmen, among other pieces. Tenor Lynn Randolph lent his lovely voice to the Flower Songfrom “Carmen.” Adrian Gans sang the Toreador Song from “Carmen” splendidly. Throughout,Jonathan Kelly gave the singers wonderful support at the piano. Everyone enjoyed DwightOwsley’s utterly charming and informed running commentary.

Opera Exposures Offers Top-Notch Program

Published in The New York Amsterdam News

by Raoul Abdul

On the first Sunday afternoon of this month, Opea Exposures provided a forum for the talents of five excellent singers at a concert in the historic Saint Mark’s Church in the Bowery. The program included a nice mix of standard and lesser-known operatic arias and a handful of songs performed with piano accompinament.Ensemble

The singers were sopranos Geraldine McMillian and Ximena Borges, mezzso-soprano Krysty Swann, tenor John Bernard and baritone Anthony Turner. They were assisted by pianist Jonathan Kelly. The popular raconteur Dwight Owsley presided over the preceedings.

For many present, the highlight of the afternoon was an emotionally charged execution by Geraldine McMillian of Queen Elizabeth’s final aria “Toi qui sus le neant” from the original French version of Verdi’s Don Carlos (1867). It is known to most of us as “Tu che le vanita” in the more familiar Italian version.

Krysty Swann, understudy of the title role in the much-publicized New York City Opera production of the Richard Danielpour/Toni Morrison operaMargaret Garner, gave a haunting account of the the “Lullaby” from that work. Anthony Turner gave a beautiful account of an aria from the opera Harriet Tubman by Leo Edwards.

Ximena Borges was bewitching in a seldom-heard aria from the Zarzuela La Tempranica by the Spanish composer Jeronimo Gimenez (1854-1923). John Bernard gave a stylish rendition of the African-American spiritual “Ride on, King Jesus.” Throughout the afternoon, Jonathan Kelly gave wonderful piano support.

The singers were also heard in excerpts from well-known operas by Bizet, Rossini and Donizetti, as well as an arrangement of a spiritual by J. Rosamund Johnson and “Fy’er, Fy’re” by Hall Johnson with a text by Langston Hughes. The program ended with the ensemble performing “I’m on My Way” from Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess.